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David Greene’s 3 Steps to Building Wealth EVEN in a Bad Economy

by California Digital News

Building wealth is about to become more challenging than ever before. High interest rates make many rental properties cash-flow-less, the economy could enter a recession, and many investors could lose their shirts. In times of extreme economic uncertainty, only the financially fit will be able to keep, protect, and build wealth. So, in today’s episode, we’re giving you the steps you need to not only survive but thrive in ANY economy.

Who are these steps coming from? David Greene, the waiter turned multi-million dollar property investor who is not only the industry’s leader in real estate investing but one of the most financially savvy people on the planet. When the gurus go left, David goes right, which is how he’s been able to hold on to his wealth EVEN during economic turbulence.

Today, David will go over the Pillars of Wealth (also the name of his new book) that you must start building NOW if you want your wealth to last. David even gives some rare commentary on the MOST critical thing you can do to reach financial freedom faster and make more money (hint: it’s not investing in real estate).

Hello my dear listeners and welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast where we talk to David Greene today about his new book, Pillars of Wealth. Hello, hello, hello, my name is Mindy Jensen and with me as always is my pillar of financial knowledge, co-host, Scott Trench.

Well, with me as always is my arch ally in personal finance, Mindy Jensen.

Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else, to introduce you to every money story because we truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you are starting.

That’s right. Whether you want to retire early and travel the world, go on to make big time investments in assets like real estate, start your own business, or go back to the fundamentals, we’ll help you reach your financial goals and get money out of the way so you can launch yourself towards your dreams.

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Before we bring in, David, let’s take a quick break.

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And we’re back. Buckle up, this is an awesome show. You do not want to listen to this at 1.5. David Greene needs no introduction to the BiggerPockets universe, but if I had to give one, I would say that David is the host of the BiggerPockets Podcast. He runs the top producing David Greene team with Keller Williams and also owns The One Brokerage, an award-winning mortgage company with a nationwide presence.
David is also the author of several bestselling books. I think, what, five, David? Five bestselling books on real estate and investing, and he joins us today to talk about his latest book called Pillars of Wealth. David, welcome back to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I am so excited to talk to you today. Can you tell us a little bit about Pillars of Wealth and why you chose to write this book now?

Yeah. So this one is book number six with BiggerPockets. It’s like almost a thing now where every year a new book is coming out. This book is the hardest one I wrote, but in all transparency is probably my favorite. From the position that I’ve got, sort of in the crow’s nest of real estate, I see so much of what’s happening in the whole space because you’re hosting the podcast, you’re talking to investors, I’m running real estate related businesses.
So when you see changes in the economy, changes in the way that real estate transactions take place, I really see them before everybody else does. And I’ve noticed that within our space of real estate education, there is a constant undercurrent of let’s make this look like it’s easier than it really is because we can get more clicks and views.
This isn’t a BiggerPockets thing, this is just real estate educational space. You’ll see a lot of influencers doing that. And real estate almost has been portrayed as this magic pill. I have no money, I have no job, I have no life, I have no credit, I have no skills, I have no friends, the cat never picks my lap to sit in. How do I buy real estate?

You have no business buying real estate if you have none of that stuff.

Yes, that’s exactly right. It’s irresponsible to tell somebody if their financial house is in that much disarray that you need to go add weight to this terrible foundation by owning real estate, because not only does real estate make you money, but it can cost you money. Things can go wrong and you need to have some reserves set aside in order to do this as well as some skills.
Now, that’s not to deter people from investing in real estate. I really think this should be the carrot that gets you to put your financial house in order. You want to buy real estate, you’re here listening to the podcast. That’s wonderful. Let that be what motivates you to take certain steps to put yourself in a position that you’ve earned the right to do it. Just like if you want to bench press 500 pounds, you wouldn’t just go load up a bar with 500 pounds and say, “Well, how do I lift 500 pounds?” You would start with what you can lift and you would steadily increase it.
So this book was written to sort of be the antidote to the gurus that go out there and say, “Hey, you can just do it this way. Or you could just do it that way. Here’s the way around the obstacle,” instead of the obstacle might be a necessary part of your journey to put you in the position where you do build the skills, the knowledge, the experience, and the ability to build wealth through real estate.

I just want to violently agree with you on this topic and use another example here of using a HELOC to fund the down payment on a purchase. So this is a common way that folks could try to get around the problem of not having liquidity. Well, the problem is a HELOC is a short-term debt instrument. Right now you’ll see rates in 7, 8, 9% range for a lot of HELOCs. It’s a second position loan against your house essentially, right?
And if you take out a $60,000 HELOC for your down payment on a rental property, relatively small HELOC for a down payment for example, and you assume it’s a five-year payback, you’re paying $1,000 a month in principal back against that HELOC, not to mention the 5 or $600 a month in interest. That absolutely cripples your cashflow on a deal and you’re in that position where for the next five years, this property is sucking cash out of your life as you look to repay that HELOC.
And that’s what the danger of getting into real estate without a strong financial position looks like. It’s a pet peeve of mine with the HELOC thing. People don’t think that through and they think it’s going to magically turn out on the other side. No, that’s a highly risky situation and you’re going to be bleeding cash for a long time to get yourself out of that.

Yeah, that’s the reality of what we see. How do you find a property that cash flows $1,000 a month if you have the down payment? That’s incredibly difficult. Everyone’s having a hard time with that. Now, on top of that, you have to pay back $1,000 a month on a HELOC, which is not free money. You are still taking on debt and agreeing to pay that money back. You’re amplifying the risk that you’re going to be facing if something goes wrong, and you’re making it a harder lift at a time when it’s already hard.
And like you said, Scott, the problem is this is a very easy bullet point someone can put in a 30-second TikTok video where they say, “You got no money? Well, just use a HELOC on a previous property. Problem solved.” And that’s one of the reasons that I wanted to write the book because the way I built my portfolio and the way I think that you’re really supposed to do it is with a slow, steady, somewhat boring approach.
You get the skill of saving money, which is the first pillar, playing defense. I know that on this podcast, that’s what you guys are all about is, how are you wise stewards of the money you have? Then you build the skill of making money. That is actually a skill. That is not just a thing people are born into being able to do. It’s not something you can do or you can’t do. It’s a thing you have to learn.
And there’s several chapters on the things that people that are good at making money are good at doing, exactly what to do. And I learned those skills myself playing basketball in high school and working in restaurants. You don’t have to go to Harvard or some Ivy League institution to learn these types of skills, but you do have to give your very best when you’re in the position in life that you’re at right now.
And then the third pillar is you have to invest that money into something where it’s going to grow over time. Now, most of our audience does not need to be convinced on the third pillar. That’s something that the FI space maybe needs to be sold on, or the people that are really good at making money but not that great at saving it. They need to understand you have to invest that money. The BiggerPockets audience understands that already, but I don’t think they hear about the first two pillars and how they are just as important as the third.

To our investors who are listening to this episode, you mentioned saving, you mentioned earning more, you mentioned optimizing and investing. What should you focus on first?

The first pillar that I talk about in the book is defense. This is saving money. It’s pretty obvious that I like to use the analogy of money is a form of energy, and I use the picture of water being poured into a bucket. So the more money that you can make or energy you can create is like pouring more water in a bucket. If that bucket has holes, it doesn’t matter how much water you pour into it, you’re just going to lose it again.
Also, if you get good at saving money in your own personal life, you are much more likely to manage the money through a business you create responsibly as well. My experience is the people that live fast and loose with their own finances tend to do that in business.
There are people in business who solve problems by looking for efficiencies, creating more accountability, having better systems, having better employees that they don’t have to micromanage because that person does a good job. And there are people that just throw money at problems in business, “Oh, we don’t have enough leads. Let’s buy more. Oh, we have a bookkeeping problem. Let’s just hire three additional companies to keep our books.”
They’re throwing money at problems which will work when there’s plenty of water coming into that bucket, but what we see right now is the money is not changing hands as quickly, the water is drying up, the bucket’s empty very quickly. So my personal thought is that if you can create the discipline, the delayed gratification, the ability to tell yourself no, that is a superpower that will translate into the business that you run, the short-term rental that you run, the rental portfolio that you build.

And what’s the framework you outlined for being able to save more money easily and how did you make it a fun challenge for yourself?

Yeah, it’s not about depriving yourself. I’m very clear in the book. I’m not saying that your life should suck and you should be in pain all the time. It’s about having a plan for where your money goes. You should sit down with a sober mind and objectively look at what your goals are and say of my income, X percentage will go to these different things. If you love eating out, that’s great, spend money on eating out. But if you don’t really like eating out and you’re doing it just because it’s easy, that’s just stupid. If you’re not getting a lot of satisfaction and joy from that, don’t do it.
There’s lots of things that we spend money on because we’re in a bad mood and retail therapy is going to make us feel better, or it’s convenient, or like, “Oh, my girlfriend’s complaining, I don’t spend enough time with her. Let me take her to a $300 dinner to get her off my back.” It’s a stupid use of your money when what your girlfriend probably wants is a night of playing monopoly in the house to connect or something like that.
When you throw money at problems, you don’t actually make life better. So what I tell people to do is to start with a budget, literally a spreadsheet that says, “Here are the different things I spend money on. Here is how much I am choosing to allocate towards each one.” Then adjust your life to fit that budget. It’s the same way that if you wanted to lose weight or get in shape, you’d come up with a caloric budget and then you would have to adjust your life to fit the budget, not adjust the budget to fit your life.
Once you’ve done that, there’s apps that you can put on your phone that will track how much money you’re spending on different things that you can actually follow to make sure that you’re falling in line with the budget that you’ve created.
And the analogy that I use in Pillars is, it’s like floating down a stream with a current, with your eyes closed. You probably don’t feel the current when your eyes are closed and you don’t see the landscape moving next to you. When you first start looking at what you spend money on, it’s like opening your eyes and realizing, “Oh my gosh, I’m moving this very far backwards down this stream. I didn’t realize how much of my money was flowing out the door.”
The next step is to put your foot down in the riverbed and say, “I’m not going to just let this current carry me. My spending habits are not something that are going to control me.” It’s only when you put your foot down in the riverbed and you say, “I’m not spending this money anymore, that you actually feel the weight of that current, where you realize, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been solving problems with money,” or, “I’ve been undisciplined with this.” That is hard and that’s where the challenge starts.

I just want to again violently agree with David. That’s the theme of today’s show. If you’re a $200,000 per year household income earning couple, which would put you in the upper two thirds, right on the bubble of the two third level for the income of the people who listen to this show and the real estate podcast, and you spend $10,000 a month, that’s $120,000 a year, you might be accumulating 20,000 or $30,000 on top of that. I have talked to so many people who say, “Well, spending less isn’t my problem, I need to make more.”
No, spending less has a double effect on your overall situation. First, it increases the amount you accumulate with which to invest, which can then drive returns. And second, it reduces the threshold you need to achieve financial freedom. $120,000 a year, if you want a portfolio generating $120,000 a year in passive income means you have to buy a lot of property or pay off a lot of property in order to actually generate that much cashflow.
If you can drop that spending to $80,000, you have $40,000 more after tax … It’s all after tax, by the way, anything that you don’t spend … and you only need a portfolio that generates $80,000 a year, that’s a double whammy. That has an enormous multiplier effect on the day that you actually achieve your goal of likely financial independence. So I think wealth creation begins with frugality, and I completely agree with this as a starting point.

Here’s an example that I talk about when it comes to defense and that no one thinks about and it just blows my mind that we don’t. Everyone is in the pursuit of passive income. There is an obsession with I need more passive income so I can have a better life. If you can earn a 6% return on $100,000, that’s about $500 a month. It is very difficult to get a 6% return on an asset that you would be comfortable owning in a good location that has some upside. It’s possible, but it’s not easy to do.
People will say, it’s not worth doing this because I can’t find it. However, if you can knock $600 a month off of your budget, that is the functional equivalent of earning a 6% return on $100,000. How hard is it to save $100,000? You are talking about years of your life that it takes to save that much money. And like you said, Scott, the money that you make is taxed. It makes it even harder to be able to accomplish that.
When times are tough, like right now, when investing is more difficult, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but it’s just harder to make it work. Why would you not turn that same energy towards what you’re spending your money on and take control of something that you can control, which is your own personal budgeting?
And that’s one of the reasons that I never wrote the book on house hacking, but it’s like my favorite strategy of all of them because it’s hard to go accumulate $500 a month of passive income. It’s much easier to buy a house and rent out a part of it and reduce my own living expenses from $2,000 a month to $500 a month. That’s a $1,500 return. How much capital would I need to save to be able to make $1,500? So to your point, this is just something that needs to be spoken about more often because people have more control over that area of their finances.

You have something you can cut from your budget. There’s frivolous stuff. You’re paying too much for stuff. I use Mint Mobile for my phone that is $15 a month and you could pay $100 a month. Why would you pay $85 a month more for essentially the same service, or exactly the same service, or lesser service, because Mint is pretty flipping good? So if you have a problem with your cash outflow, your cash inflow, look at your budget. I bet you’ve got something to cut. I bet you’ve got a lot of somethings to cut and it might not be fun, but it’s probably not going to be that hard either.

We’ve talked a lot about defense. Let’s go to offense. What’s your philosophy on offense? And by the way, I do want to call out on the last time we interviewed you on the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, we heard about your incredible journey as a waiter and all the hard work that you put in, the extra effort that you liked to put in. It wasn’t quite enough to get to Red Robin Waiter of the Year status like James Dainard, but clearly you guys share the same mentality with your approach to service there. Is that essentially the underpinning of how you think about earning more?

Yeah. I learned all this within the ecosystem of a restaurant now. And I think you make a good point there because I do get along very well with Jimmy. I think it’s because we have a very similar approach to excellence in what you’re doing.
So when I was in college, I mentioned this the last time we did the interview, my goal was to save $500 a week from tips from tables. So I had to play defense. I couldn’t spend money on dumb things. I didn’t go out to eat. I didn’t take vacations as a 20-year-old. I just didn’t understand what was so hard about life at 20 that I needed to go to Mexico with my friends and be crazy.
But I also understood that I needed to work more hours or stay an hour and a half later to close that I could double my income by being the closer of the restaurant when everybody else wanted to go home. So I started to pick up these little tips of how to be good at making money. I noticed if I can close, I can get more tables. So the question became, well, what do I have to do to be a closer?
Sometimes I’d give them 20 bucks to go home early and I’d stay and pick up another couple tables and make 80 bucks and I was up $60. Sometimes just being the boss’s favorite. She schedules you as a closer more often because you come into work when they need somebody or you have a better attitude than other people do.
I would pick up shifts when I had nothing to do. If I was sitting at home and there was nothing really compelling, I would just start calling the other servers and saying, “Hey, do you want me to work for you?” And there was a very good chance that if you give most people a chance to take the day off, they’re going to take it.
So I was intentional and then I realized that if I wanted to wait on more tables, I had to be just better at being a waiter. I had to be faster, I had to give better service, I had to have a better attitude, I had to be more efficient. And in the restaurants that I worked at, time was your enemy.
If you get to a table and they’re not ready to order and they take a long time to put their order in, your other tables are getting pissed because they’re like, “We’re hungry, where’s our food?” Or if it takes you a long time to get the information from your notes into the computer for the kitchen to start on, your food’s waiting to get run out to another table and the kitchen’s yelling at you. There’s always stress.
And I just learned to let that stress mold me into a more efficient person. I would look at the better waiters that had done it for years and ask them, “How do you solve these problems? What happens when you end up in these situations?”
And they would give me really good advice, like stop running to the kitchen to get one thing and running to the table to drop it off and running to the kitchen to get one thing. Go to the kitchen, get everything for every table and take it all at the same time. Well, I had to be more disciplined. I had to mentally drill it in my head, table three needs this, table four needs this, table five needs this, and then grab it all at one time.
Those skills actually translated very well into other things I did in life. When my real estate agent business took off and I was very busy and my clients had a lot of stress and I had a lot of moving pieces, I learned how to clump them all up into things that I could create into a system to be more efficient than what other people did.
My personal take is that you should approach every day at work like it’s the last day of tryouts and you don’t want to get cut. If you take this approach that I’m going to the gym and I’m going to work out as hard as I can and I’m not going to leave until I am too tired to lift another weight, it is impossible to not get stronger. The same happens with the skills you build at work.
And what I find unfortunately is that most people have got this philosophy, and I don’t know where it came from, but it’s everywhere, that you’re a sucker if you do that, that you shouldn’t work harder until your boss gives you a raise, that you shouldn’t try harder until they do something to make it worth it for you. And I just think that that’s foolish advice.
I think it’s foolish in a relationship to say, “Well, I’ll love them when they love me more.” That probably never works out. I’ve never heard of a married couple who said that was a good strategy. It’s almost always we have to start with what’s happening.
And I really believe that people need to focus much more on the skills they are building and the value that they bring to the marketplace, whether that’s their job, their boss, their client, their customer, or the market as a whole depending on what environment you’re in. You will start to build skills. And as you build skills, you will become more valuable.
And everyone’s biggest fear is what if I do that and I don’t get a raise? And my answer to everyone is like, that’s the best position you could be in because now you have confidence to move on to the next job and know you’re going to crush it versus, “Well, I haven’t been working out for the last two years and now tryouts are coming up and I’m in bad shape. I can’t take that next job.”

I have long felt that there’s an interrelationship between defense and offense, where if I am spending less money, accumulating more cash, I have more liquidity, I have more passive income, I can be more aggressive and my options begin to explode and multiply in terms of my ability to earn more offensively. Do you agree with that interrelationship that there’s a paradox, the less you spend, the more you can make?

A hundred percent. Yeah, because if you look at the jobs that pay the best, they usually have the least security. If you go take that W-2 job, the pro is that you’re guaranteed to get the paycheck. The con is that you won’t have as much opportunity. The people that make the most money are some form of an entrepreneur, some kind of 1099 worker. They have some kind of sales. They have a hand in creating revenue for the company.
I refer to this as they catch the fish instead of cleaning the fish. Fish catchers will always be compensated more overall because the skill that they bring is inherently more valuable to the enterprise. The downside is they have less safety, they have less security, and there’s more risk. They might not eat at all that day or make no money if they couldn’t get the fish to bite or they missed setting the hook. Whereas the fish cleaners, they’re going to get paid no matter what happens.
So if you want to get into the higher tier of making money, it comes at the expense of losing security, which means you need to be in a strong financial position. If you’re saddled down with car debt and student loan debt and housing debt for a house that you don’t need and spending habits that are poor, it’ll be so much harder to make that jump into an area with less security.
And you also need to spend some time in those higher paying jobs before you learn how to do them well. You don’t just get on a boat and learn how to catch fish. There’s skill that has to be developed. And like you said, Scott, if you’re not in a strong financial position, you just won’t make the jump.

Okay, David, we’re going to put you on the hot seat right now. What are one to three things an investor should do today to get in the game?

The first thing that they should do is read Pillars of Wealth and understand that investing is a third of the journey. It’s not the entire thing. And let that be the carrot that guides them.
The second thing that they should do is look at their budget and say, “What could I cut from this that wouldn’t kill me, but would put me in a better position?”
Most people, and Scott, you talk about this in Set for Life, the biggest expense they have is their housing allowance. People assume they have to pay the $2,500 a month for rent. That’s just what it costs to get an apartment. And they don’t think about, “What if I rent a room from somebody else? What if I rent a room from somebody else and cook for everybody, or I do the cleaning, or I do something to add value to that relationship? What if they give me an even bigger discount on my rent?” House hacking works both ways. You can own the property and rent out the rooms, or you can rent the room from someone else to help save money until you’re able to own the property.
And the third thing is they should take a good hard long look at the mirror and say, “Do I go to work every day like it’s the last day of tryouts and I don’t want to get cut? Am I giving a hundred percent of the effort that I could be giving or am I stuck in this toxic mindset that says, I want to make as much money as I can, doing as little work as I have to?”
That is something that somehow has gotten into our minds and people operate that from a default level and it puts them in an adversarial relationship with their employer because their employer doesn’t like someone who’s saying, “I want to do as little work as possible and make as much money as possible.” Now, you’re clashing. You don’t have a partnership. What you want to have is a team environment where you doing better equals them doing better, which means that they can pay you more money.

David, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m picking up what you’re putting down, not literally. What do you bench these days?

I hit a record maybe six months ago when I was working all the time. I hit 315 and I was shocked that I did that, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be there right now.

I’m metaphorically picking up what you’re putting down. Really appreciate it. Really enjoyed Pillars of Wealth. And thank you for all you do to bring a lot of knowledge to the BiggerPockets community on a regular basis. Appreciate it.

Thank you, Scott. Thank you, Mindy. Great time.

David, I always appreciate your time. It is always fun talking to you. For those listening, he was on episode 12 of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. Go back and listen to that because he dropped nugget after nugget after nugget of wisdom and you need to hear his entire waiter story because it is a doozy. He just hit the highlights today. David, where can people find you when they’re looking for you online?

They can find me at davidgreene24 on social media, and And they can also check out the BiggerPockets Real Estate Podcast where we do our very best to help people build wealth through real estate every week.

Awesome. David, thank you so much for your time today.
All right, Scott, that was David Greene. It’s always so much fun to talk to him. I don’t even know how he keeps so much knowledge in his head. I guess that’s where all the hair went.

That’s awesome.

Pushed it out with all the knowledge.

No, yeah, I can’t just help completely agreeing with David on a lot of these things. I think it’s always for me about the basics and the fundamentals. And look, I know that I missed out on more of a run-up that I could have had over the last 10 years if I had levered up, pulled cash out, gone all in on real estate and really just ridden the wave of appreciation 5, 6, 7, 8 years ago.
But I’m also happy that I haven’t done that and I have a lot of cash and I have a very stable and secure position that I can consistently grow and maintain. And I’m not worried about cashflow problems. I’m not worried about average daily rates going down in the short-term rental market, and I’m feeling very secure and confident in my long-term rental investing strategy, and will buy another one in 2024 and continue on business as usual here.
And I think there’s a lot to be said for that, and that’s why I’m proud to do what we do every week on the BiggerPockets Money Podcast and preach the basics of personal finance. I’m glad David is obviously so aligned with that and has built his business the same way.

I love that. Yeah, I am always looking for my next real estate deal, but I’m not frantically looking because I have money in the stock market and that’s where it’s growing right now because that is a more comfortable place for me in this time period.
So if you’re interested in investing in real estate, start keeping an eye on the market. But don’t just jump in blindly because some schmuck on YouTube told you, “Oh, you could totally do it,” because they’re not going to be there to pay your mortgage when your tenant is evicted. And they’re not going to be there to fix your house when your tenant trashes it.
So do your due diligence, go to, learn everything there is to know about real estate investing through our forums, through our blogs, through our boot camps, through our books, through our podcasts. There’s so much knowledge out there for you. All you have to do is read it, or listen, in the case of the podcasts.

And keep your fine financial fundamentals sound. Spend less than you earn, pile up cash, and that is the major de-risker in any investment strategy you can pursue. If you’re saving 2, $3,000 a month, that can wipe out or mitigate really almost any mistake on a property or two that you might purchase for a pretty long period of time. It cannot wipe out the mistakes on 10 properties purchased or those types of things.
It’s investing in whatever asset class, real estate, stocks, whatever, consistently but not aggressively, maintaining a position where forever more cash comes into your life than goes out, controlling your expenses.
And look, as unsexy as it is, it starts with defense. The less you spend, the more you accumulate, the more you need in passive cash flow to fund a position of financial freedom, and the more risk you can take on in your investing strategy because you have a bigger cushion to fall back on your monthly burn rate, or monthly accumulation rate. And so it’s all about fundamentals and the fundamentals will propel you through any market condition.

Scott, I could not agree more. All right, I could sit here and talk forever about this, but I think we’ve covered it. And David is fabulous. Where is the book available, Scott?

The book is available at, where you can get a lot of bonuses associated with the book as well. And of course, anywhere books are sold, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere.

All right, Scott, that wraps up this episode of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. He is Scott Trench and I am Mindy Jensen saying, got to jet, whippet.

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BiggerPockets Money was created by Mindy Jensen and Scott Trench, produced by Kailyn Bennett, editing by Exodus Media, copywriting by Nate Weintraub. Lastly, a big thank you to the BiggerPockets team for making this show possible.


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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.

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